So, Big Car and the Indiana History Center decided to work together on a project, and they liked the idea of doing a sort of side-by-side, then-and-now photo comparison of Indianapolis sites. But that's already been done, they said; it's all over the Internet, which just loves nostalgia. How to do it differently?
It was Andy Fry, creative director at Big Car, who struck on the notion of mashing up - or making collages of - archival and contemporary photos of the same locations. Indiana Historical Society archivists picked out about 100 photos, then Fry and Big Car compatriot Jim Walker narrowed down the field to about 20.
A year's worth of shooting and editing later, and Fry's show, Then in the Now, opened in a fourth floor gallery at the Center.
Fry spoke with NUVO about three of his collages, but first had this to say about the process of making them:
"The most amazing thing is how standing in the same spots gives you a connection that's almost metaphysical to those old photos. A lot of things started to emerge for me as I worked on all of them.
I tended to idealize the fact that we had interurbans going around, which I think was a great thing, but you don't really think about all the wires and noise.
And when there are horse-drawn carriages, there's a lot of horseshit all over the place; if you stare at these things long enough, piles of poop start to emerge.
I'm not trying to disparage the past - we've knocked down a lot of beautiful buildings, and there's a part of me that wants to point that out - but I was kind of surprised at how many unpleasant things started to emerge as well."
The original photo was taken from on high - two or three stories up - and I'm not actually sure if it was taken on a platform or from an old building or what. Today, it seems to have been taken from the Artsgarden, but the kids playing the concert would have been hovering over the street in that era. I got the sense after staring at [archival pictures] for a long time that the whole downtown was just covered in smog. The visibility seems a lot less than it was, and I felt like there must have been a bunch of factories around billowing out smoke. After working on it for a long time, I started to feel I could sense the air.
Bicyclists at Circle and East
My brother's a bike messenger who delivers for Jimmy John's, and we made a handbill for him to distribute to everyone who does that work. So they had an idea of what we were going for. I couldn't position the bike messengers in exactly the same place as the other photo because of the giant Nutcracker statues around the Circle. If you look really closely at the old bikes, they're all motorcycles, which I didn't notice until I looked really closely and getting into the nitty-gritty pixels of it.
Virginia and Shelby
Very little was actually the same except for the road. Even the building on the right that's now the library and apartments wasn't there; it was a smaller, wood building. We think of Fountain Square's buildings as having always been there, so it was interesting seeing a photo taken before even those buildings that we thought were so old were there. There's actually a train coming down that track; I think I tucked it behind the car.